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[casi] Many Moderate Churches Take Up Anti-War Cause

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Published on Sunday, February 16, 2003 by the Chicago Tribune Many Moderate Churches Take Up 
Anti-War Cause
Ministers identify perils in conflict
by Dahleen Glanton and V. Dion Haynes
Borrowing a theme from the old black spiritual, "Ain't Gonna Study War No More," Rev. Cecil Murray 
stood in the pulpit at First African Methodist Episcopal Church in Los Angeles and warned the 
17,000-member congregation recently of the evils of going to war against Iraq.
Using his platform to protest war was an unusual move for Murray, pastor of one of the nation's 
largest black churches. But he and many other ministers who oppose going to war with Iraq think 
that America is experiencing difficult times that call for extraordinary action.
"We are the seeds of conscience," Murray said in an interview. "The church must be prophetic or it 
will be pathetic. There is a movement, we are taking a stand, and I think it will grow as we get 
closer to possible confrontation."
Across the country, religious leaders from many prominent denominations are using their pulpits to 
spread a message to millions of churchgoers that the war President Bush is threatening is not only 
unwarranted but is a violation of God's law. The reaction in other churches, synagogues, mosques 
and houses of worship has been diverse.
In the past, many Catholic, Episcopalian and United Methodist leaders have been less vocal in 
espousing their views before a war begins. This time, they have taken a commanding lead, stepping 
to the forefront in a unified effort to bring attention to what they say are religious perils of 
conflict with a Muslim nation.
In recent months, churches have organized petition drives and ministers have voiced anti-war 
sentiment in televised sermons and taken out newspaper ads. They have also used Bible classes to 
explain the church's position on Bush's push for a pre-emptive attack on Iraq.
In January, the National Council of Churches, along with a coalition of anti-war civic and 
religious groups, began running a television ad with Bishop Melvin Talbert, the United Methodists' 
top ecumenical official, aimed at raising the profile of its anti-war movement.
No longer silent
"The middle church is becoming as active as the religious right has been for the last 15 to 20 
years," said Bob Edgar, general secretary of the Washington-based church council.
"We have had a huge change in strategy. Until now, the middle and left had not used computers, 
there were no full-page ads or phone campaigns against policy. But everybody knows that to break 
through the maze of modern media, sermons have to be preached in new ways," he added.
The council, consisting of 36 Protestant, Orthodox and Anglican denominations, was denied a meeting 
with Bush, said Edgar, a former congressman from Pennsylvania. But delegations have met with church 
leaders in France and with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. A meeting is scheduled next month 
with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
"It took organized religion 10 years to oppose the Vietnam War. During that time, people were 
thought to be un-American if they stood up against the war," Edgar said. "Now it is considered very 
American for the church to stand up. The idea of a pre-emptive strike that does not have broad 
multi-national support seems strange to many religious leaders."
Top-ranking officials in several denominations have issued written directives laying out their 
stance on the war and urging churches to get involved.
For the most part, religious leaders said, only a few churches are pacifist. Most Protestant and 
Roman Catholic churches base their position on a just war theory, in which there must be an 
external act by a belligerent nation and the effect of civilian casualties must be considered. 
While that was present 12 years ago, when Iraq had occupied Kuwait, it is not present today, the 
leaders said.
"People have been quick to point out the injustice of going to war at this time," said Rev. Michael 
Baxter, a theologian at the University of Notre Dame who recently spent three weeks in Iraq, where 
he said there are almost a million Christians. "If there is any aggression this time, many people 
feel it is on the part of America."
Issue creates a rift
On the other side of the issue is the Southern Baptist Convention, which has urged its 16 million 
members of the generally conservative fundamentalist group to write letters supporting Bush's 
In some cases, the strong anti-war sentiment has created sharp divisions in the church, between 
those who support the war and those who do not. And the pastors are being caught in the middle.
"I have people who support the president's initiative and would be willing for us to go to war 
today. And on the opposite side, there are people who are very much committed to doing whatever we 
can to prevent war from happening," said Rev. Michael Vandiver, pastor of Central United Methodist 
Church in Spartanburg, S.C. "It is a very meaningful time for the congregation, and most of them 
are willing to exchange dialogue without getting angry."
In the Jewish community, though concerned for the loss of Iraqi lives, some rabbis preach that this 
war would be justified.
"Judaism does not have a presumption of pacifism. It recognizes that there are wars that are 
obligatory, that must be fought, and clearly the Bible understands that human beings have the 
capacity to fight against evil," said Michael Siegel, senior rabbi at Anshe Emet Synagogue in 
In general, he said, the congregation has been supportive, though some members have either 
disagreed or expressed displeasure with that stance.
"Some of the most vociferous voices have come form people who have seen war firsthand and have 
spoken very passionately against the war in Iraq," the rabbi said. "Their feeling is that we need 
to exhaust every possibility to avoid a war, and certainly Jewish law begins with diplomacy in 
order to find peace. They question whether we have done that."
Ghazi Khankan, director of interfaith and communication at the Islamic Center of Long Island, N.Y., 
said the mosque has tried to keep the spiritual and political activities separate. But the possible 
war is always on people's mind.
"People are apprehensive," Khankan said. "They are worried about friends and family in the Middle 
He also said there is concern "that a war might add fuel to the anti-Muslim bias that is found in 
some quarters

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